Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Florence Kling Harding

                    First Lady Florence Harding was born Florence Mabel Kling on August 15, 1860, in Marion, Ohio, and given the nickname of Flossie.  Her parents were Amos King (June 15, 1833) and Louisa Mabel Hanford Bouton (September 2, 1835-June 23, 1893).  Her father married a second time in July 1907 to Caroline Beatty Denman (1858-1925).  She was the oldest of three children; her brothers were Clifford Bouton (October 13, 1861-July 11, 1937) and Vetallis Hanford (November 7, 1866-July 1, 1938).

                    Florence'sancestry was German, French, and English.  Her French Huguenot ancestors migrated to England in order to escape religious persecution.  Her maternal English ancestors came from the Hanford clan and were among the colonial founders of Canaan, Connecticut.  Her grandmother Elizabeth Vetallis was probably a Catholic from southern France.  Some residents from Marion, Ohio, claimed in 1920 that her paternal grandfather was Jewish and originated from Wurttemberg, Germany; his people were German in origin, but there is no documentation about their religion.  

                    Amos Kling owned a hardware store, banker, and local investor as well as owning and developing real estate.  There was claim that he was the "richest man in a small town," and Florence "grew up in a setting of wealth, position, and privilege."  One of those privileges was a music course at the Cincinnati Conservatory that completed her education.  She was very much like her "strong-will father in temperament" and became self-reliance, a rarity for girls at that time.  

                    Florence was pregnant when she eloped at age 19 with Henry "Pete" Atherton DeWolfe in 1880, her childhood friend and neighbor.  There is apparently no official record or legal marriage license for the couple; therefore, they might have just had a common law marriage.  At any rate, DeWolfe was a spendthrift and heavy drinker, and the couple separated soon after the birth of their son, Marshall Eugene DeWolfe (also known as Marshall Eugene Kling) in 1880.  There is apparently a record that she obtained a divorce in 1886 and resumed her maiden name.

                    Florence returned to Marion with her infant son, but she refused to live with her parents.  She rented rooms and earned her money by giving piano lessons to children in the neighborhood.  She eventually allowed her parents to raise her son.

                    Warren G. Harding was the publisher of the Daily Star, the only newspaper in MarionWarren and Florence began courting soon after they met in 1890 and were soon engaged.  Florence's father did not approve of the match; he accosted Warren in the street, called him names, and threatened his life if he did not leave Florence alone.

Warren was 25 and Florence was 30 when they married on July 8, 1891 in his home in Marion, Ohio, a house designed and built by WarrenWarren called his wife "Duchess," and Florence called her husband "Wur'n" as she pronounced it.  They did not have any children together, but Marshall, Florence's son, lived with them sometimes.  He worshipped his stepfather and wanted to follow in his steps in the newspaper business.  

The marriage was not a happy one because Harding neglected his wife; he sought refuge from her strong personality with his friends and with other women.  The marriage was apparently a success as a business because Florence used her "dominating personality" and "great ambitions for her husband" (George H. Mayer, World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 9, p. 58) to make him successful. 

Florence used her "martial demeanor" and "managerial skills" to make his newspaper a financial success.  She took over and ran the Star's circulation department for 14 years and made sure that the paper was efficiently distributed and subscriptions were paid.  She also worked hard to help him become politically successful, and the newspaper prospered as his political success increased.  She was a tireless worker for his election after he was nominated for President in 1920.  She said once, "I have only one real hobby - my husband."  Norman Thomas, one of her newsboys, recalled that "Mrs. Harding in those days ran the show.  Her husband was the front; it was she who was the real driving power in the success …."  

Mrs. Harding had never been to the White House prior to the election of her husband.  After meeting with President-elect and Mrs. Harding to discuss the social customs and the value of ceremony in the White House, former President Taft wrote to his wife Helen that the new First Lady was "a nice woman" and would "readily adapt herself."  This proved to be very true because Mrs. Harding hosted elegant garden parties and readily mixed with guests as the First Lady. She opened the mansion and the grounds again as they had been closed due to President Wilson's long illness.  She energetically performed her duties as First Lady even though she suffered from a chronic kidney ailment.  The Hardings had a crowded social calendar, but Mrs. Harding still found time to host garden parties regularly for veterans.  Even though the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution made liquor illegal, President and Mrs. Harding had fun poker parties in the White House library.

Florence was outspoken with her political views, particularly against the League of Nations and for women's suffrage.  She was very involved in her husband's life and possibly helped to write his inaugural speech because she mouthed some of the words and passages.  She reportedly said to her husband upon their arrival at the White House, "Well, Warren Harding, I got you the Presidency.  Now what are you going to do?"

The Harding campaign had taken place from the front porch of their home; therefore, Florence was able to carve out a dual public role as traditional housekeeper and modern activist.  After the election, she "continued to strike a duality as a modernist and traditionalist. She was one of the earliest First Ladies to feel that the citizenry were her constituency and her role entailed more than hostess in the White House.  `I feel that there is a great duty and responsibility which I must live up to,' she explained."

Florence Harding was "`particularly anxious… to help the women of the country to understand their government…  I want representative women to meet their Chief Executive and to understand the policies of the present administration.'  She invited not only women's political groups but also women federal workers, girls graduating from high school, college girls, and even African-American girls from local Dunbar High School.  She broke an unwritten social code and invited divorced women to social events.  While she did not publicly address the issue of birth control, she refused to condemn the movement for it when pressed by a reporter. Believing firmly in the necessity of physical exercise for women, she hosted a women's tennis exhibition game on the White House courts.  To the Camp Fire Girls, she wrote:  `The part that women play in the world has been greatly changed … It has broadened and enlarged and we will all be wise to recognize that a larger consideration for the health and physical advancement of the girls will better fit them for the role they must assume.'  Her message to the Girl Scouts was almost militaristic:  `Let us, as in the past, persist in overcoming all obstacles.  No matter what the sacrifice may be we must proceed with the great upbuilding work….'" 

Mrs. Harding was interested in astrology and visited Madam Marcia, a noted clairvoyant in Washington in early 1920 - while Warren was a still long shot to win the election.  The Madam predicted that Warren would be elected President and that he would die suddenly while in office.

Florence enjoyed traveling with her husband.  She was with him when he made his nationwide "Voyage of Understanding" during the summer of 1923.  She was by his side when he suddenly became sick and died in San Francisco, California, on August 2, 1923.  His death came before the major scandals in his administration became known by the public.  She showed "astonishing fortitude" as she accompanied the body of her husband on the long train ride back to Washington as well as enduring the state funeral at the Capitol and the last service and burial at Marion.  She also destroyed many documents in an effort to protect the image of her husband.

Mrs. Harding planned to remain in Washington, D.C. to make a new life for herself there as well as to travel in Europe;  however, her kidney ailment flared up again.  Her friend and former Surgeon General, Dr. Charles E. Sawyer, insisted that she go back to Marion for treatment and recovery.  She died in Marion of renal failure on November 21, 1924, less than sixteen months after the death of her husband, and was buried next to him.  "The Harding Memorial in Marion, Ohio, is considered by many historians to be the most beautiful of Presidential Tombsin the United States." 

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